by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 3, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1426)
Can the US be a friend of the Muslims? This is not a rhetorical question; Muslims must consider it seriously because it has enormous implications for their future. First, a clarification is in order: when one talks about “the US”, one does not mean the American people but the government, although it could be argued that the 51 percent of Americans who voted for George Bush should bear some responsibility for the crimes perpetrated in their name.
No such distinction is made between people and the state when the US attacks those it perceives as its enemies. In Afghanistan, for instance, some 20,000 civilians were killed by the US in the process of overthrowing the Taliban; in Iraq at least 100,000 civilians had been slaughtered by October (Lancet, October 29, 2004), and thousands more injured, tortured, raped or imprisoned in concentration camps. This is in addition to the estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who died as a result of twelve years of US-imposed sanctions, ostensibly aimed at Saddam Hussain. The infant mortality rate in Iraq has increased by 345 percent since 1989, according to UNICEF.
Such horrendous facts must not be dismissed as mere statistics; these are human beings who were condemned to death because they were deemed expendable in the US’s rapacious drive to grab others’ resources. When questioned about such crimes, US officials, lawmakers and most academics routinely dismiss them as “history”. The victims’ families can be forgiven if they do not find this acceptable. Nor is there any evidence that the US is willing to abandon its murderous ways. In 1961, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff conceived a plan, code-named the Northwood Project, to blow up an American airliner, killing hundreds of passengers, and blame it on Cuba as a pretext for attacking that country. In 1963 a hitherto top-secret government commission published a report, The Plain Mountain study, on the consequences of lasting peace on American society. It found that peace may never be possible; that even if it were, it would probably be “undesirable”. “Defending the national interest”, it reported, was not the real purpose of war; war itself was a necessity and war deaths should be planned and budgeted for. Similar attitudes are reflected in the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century, which calls for “full-spectrum dominance” and “perpetual wars”. These neo-conservatives dominate the US political landscape today.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the US military budget accounts for nearly half of the world’s annual military spending of US$900 billion. According to the UN, a mere 10 percent of the USmilitary budget would ensure everyone in the world received the essentials of life. With 700 million people living below the poverty line worldwide, the profligate lifestyle of the US is directly responsible for this state of affairs. These statistics and inequities should enable even the most simple-minded to understand that the US really does not care for human life, a fact confirmed also by its wanton pollution of the environment and destruction of the world’s natural resources. Its sole purpose is to grab whatever resources it can, regardless of the suffering it causes to others. In this, the US power elites behave even worse than beasts; the latter kill only when they are hungry or under attack.
Despite this grim reality, there is a serious gulf in the Muslim world between those who claim the US to be a friend and those who see it as an enemy. The former group consists only of atiny westernised elite in our societies, including ruling parties and elements of the military establishments, businessmen, academics, journalists and others; the latter group consists of the vast majority of the populations of every Muslim country in the world. Although largely discounted as ignorant and irrelevant, the Muslim masses actually understand the US’s true nature far better than the supposedly “enlightened” elites. Nor are Muslims alone in this; most ordinary people around the world, whether in Central and South America, or in Africa and Asia, have arrived at the same conclusion. The US is hated all over the world not because others are jealous of its “freedom and democracy”, according to Bush’s simplistic assertions, but because it is arrogant, greedy, aggressive, ruthless and incredibly hypocritical.
The Muslim elites have also got it wrong on another count: thinking that they can have a relationship of equals with the US. The US uses its allies and then discards them; Saddam Hussain was a trusted friend for decades until he outlived his usefulness; the Taliban were supported by the US until they became as an obstacle to its grand design. The Mubaraks, Abdullahs and Musharrafs should take note.
The friendship of the US comes with a huge price-tag. Recipients of US largesse end up becoming weaker and more dependent, and lose what little freedom they have to determine their own policies and futures. Countries that choose not to become vassals of the US may suffer short-term hardships, but they gain in independence, self-reliance and self-confidence. While it is sensible to avoid antagonizing the US more than necessary, too close an association is more than just undesirable; it is a recipe for disaster.